Alaska, specifically at the S.H.I.E.L.D. secure holding facility designation Utopia. ‘Seven months or seven years, Gallagher, I’m afraid you’re still going to get the same answer’ a scientist exclaims to his colleague, before remarking that ripping things apart is a lot easier than putting them back together, and that the Hand did well. ‘Our best decontamination scenarios have no effect on this subject!’ The scientist motions to the monitors and points out that what is being shown are some highlights from last weeks tape.
‘To kill! To kill and then to die! For my master’s glory! For the humbling of man and the ending of days!’ exclaims a very distraught man.
Sitting at a desk covered in computers and equipment, one of the scientists asks if they can increase the time compression. The other scientist replies that their subject is living a month of subjective time for every hour in the simulator, and thinks that any more than that and - suddenly he stops mid-sentence. The first scientist asks him what is wrong, to which the second exclaims that the wall he is touching is hot. ‘Well, we are over a thermal vent’ the first scientist points out. The second reminds him that they are also insulated to a tolerance of eight hundred Celsius.
The second scientist radios to Colonel Chambers, informing him that he thinks they are under attack, when suddenly his entire body goes up in flames, followed by his fellow scientist. A quintet of strange beings enter the lab through a scorching hole in the wall, and the grey-skinned man known as Sangre thanks the flaming Fuego. Sangre addresses the dark-haired woman as Serafina and tells her to get to work, assuring her that they will make sure she is not interrupted.
But suddenly, a troop of guards enters the lab, and one of them orders ‘FREEZE!’ The large bulky man asks Sangre if this makes things worse, as all these men have seen them. Sangre addresses the bulky man as Perro and exclaims ‘Perro, all these men are about to die!’ Adding that Serafina will take care of any digital evidence. Sangre uses his powers, causing small bubbles to appear around all of the soldier’s heads and he remarks that Sabretooth, on the other hand, has remained stubbornly alive, ‘And he knows - as the expression goes - where we live!’ After Sangre’s powers have done what they were supposed to, he remarks that this is curious, as death by drowning is meant to be peaceful - which was obviously not the case for the soldiers. ‘I’m sure that’s a big issue for all of us’ the young woman with fabulous blonde hair replies.
Serafina stands by the mysterious man who is strapped up to the wall, a contraption covering his face and body, and Fuego asks her if she has everything that she needs. Serafina replies that this machine runs total immersion scenarios, so once she interfaces with it, she will be able to generate her own. The young woman concentrates, then announces that she is in, ‘Now what should I wear, do you think?’ she asks. Suddenly, Serafina has interfaced, and appears in a dank, dark dungeon, where a naked man huddles in a corner. As a brilliant light appears behind him, he turns to it, and sees a blonde woman wrapped in cloth, and Serafina, in disguise, replies ‘I am your guardian angel, Jean-Paul Beaubier. And I have come to raise you up - that your enemies may be brought low!’
Meanwhile, in Westchester County, New York, at the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning. Three members of the mutant heroes known as the Uncanny X-Men - Rogue, Emma “The White Queen” Frost and Bobby Drake a.k.a. Iceman are currently interrogating a chained Sabretooth, who is a constant thorn in the X-Men’s side. Victor Creed, as he is also known, declares that he is talking to Xavier and no one else, adding that they shouldn’t try pulling anything on him, as he knows Xavier’s scent. Emma reminds Creed that she has already told him his request is not possible, and warns him that he is starting to try her patience.
‘Is that right, sweetheart?’ Creed replies mockingly, before asking Emma if it more a case of her being rattled because she cannot read him. Rogue offers to soften Creed up a little by broiling his brain inside his skull. Emma doesn’t even respond, to which Rogue mutters ‘Just a suggestion!’ Creed smirks and stares Rogue right in the face, telling her that she is big and brave when he is on a leash, otherwise - ‘Otherwise it’d be a whole different kind of conversation, Creed!’ exclaims the handsome Bobby as he transforms into ice-form and leaps on Creed, with a jagged piece of ice pointed at Creed’s stomach, Bobby adds ‘And you’d be holding up your half of it with punctured lungs!’
Iceman holds the sharp ice up to Sabretooth’s face, though the deadly mutant just tells Iceman to get him “Charley-Boy”, as it is the organ-grinder he wants, not the monkeys. The three X-Men depart the holding cell, and Bobby admits to the women that his show of force was unnecessary and uncool, and apologizes for it. ‘We’re hardly operating under Geneva Protocols, Robert’ Emma replies, adding that if it comes to that, then they have no right to detain Creed in the first place. Emma explains that, if anything, she was hoping either Bobby or Rogue might have made Creed angry, for in the past, rage has caused him to drop his mental defenses.
Rogue asks Emma if she got anything, to which Emma replies ‘Not much’, but that he was in Nogales yesterday - the same Nogales where some madman obliterated an entire city block. Emma is certain that Creed didn’t see the destruction, but that it left echoes in his mind, and beyond that, all she is reading from him is pain and exhaustion and fear. ‘Pain? You sure about that, Emma?’ Rogue asks. Entering an elevator, Emma replies that she is, and explains that Creed’s healing factor has been slowed by about ninety percent. ‘But I have to admit - it’s the fear that’s exercising my mind’.
Back in Alaska, Serafina is still linked up to the interface, and after using her abilities to search for information in one of the computers by linking up to it, she reveals that there are 275 active personnel and 18 visitors present. Fuego exclaims that they are all dead, so the checks are exact. He then asks about the security systems. Serafina replies that she isolated the base as soon as they were within scanner range, assures Fuego that nothing came in and nothing went out. Motioning to a monitor which displays the X-Men walking around the complex, Serafina reveals that she also ate most of the data from the base system, leaving only a few misleading images - and the trail points to the X-Men.
‘And Northstar? Can we use him?’ Fuego asks. Serafina replies that she believes so, and that if Northstar kills Sabretooth for them, and along the way he can kill his former comrades too. She informs her cohorts that the Hand have filled Northstar to the brim with hate, so that’s all the motive he needs. Serafina looks at Northstar, still tied up, and adds that she has given him a little sweetener too - the sweetest there is.
Meanwhile, at the Xavier Institute, Professor Charles Xavier himself, no longer a mutant thanks to M-Day, watches over and over again the news report of the destruction of Nogales, where the only survivor, a small girl, said that an angel told her the X-Men did it. Standing across from Xavier’s desk is high-ranking government official, Dr. Valerie Cooper - current Director of the Office of National Emergency, member of the National Security Council, former liaison to X-Factor, and long term supporter of the X-Men and mutants in general - tells Charles that the O*N*E* are looking for some answers here.
Samuel “Cannonball” Guthrie sits on a sofa as Xavier tells Dr. Cooper that he understands that and asks if sending the O*N*E*’s Director to get them is meant to flatter, or intimidate him. Valerie asks Charles if he thinks this is funny, and reminds him that an entire city block was erased ‘Not by an explosion, but by - well, you tell me!’ Val informs Xavier that the crater is a perfect hemisphere, and that buildings have been sheared off clean as if by - ‘By a point of singularity! An artificially generated black hole’ Charles exclaims, interrupting Val. ‘I follow your thoughts, Val. At least, until they magically turn to me and my X-Men’.
The good Doctor reminds Charles that he has seen the tape, that these lunatics were flying under the X-Men’s colors. ‘True or false, that’s not likely to have been random!’ Charles gets to his feet and points out that O*N*E*’s Sentinels log all of the X-Men’s comings and goings, and he assumes that Valerie has consulted that log, and that it has naturally established the X-Men’s innocence. Val reminds Charles that the X-Men have been able to dodge Sentinel Squad’s surveillance before, adding that she would bet he could even tweak their memories so they didn’t realize he had gone for the hat trick.
Charles informs Valerie that he doesn’t have those powers anymore, and that even if he did, the Sentinels are all shielded, so it is not the answer. ‘Probably not’ Val replies, before asking Xavier if she can interview Sabretooth. Charles assures Valerie that once she has the necessary authorization she can, adding that they cannot compel Sabretooth to talk to her. ‘This stinks on ice, Charles. And that expression on your face isn’t one I ever expected to see there. You’re enjoying this!’ Valerie exclaims. Charles turns from Val, asserting that his people are innocent. ‘Until proven guilty. I’ll let myself out!’ Valerie exclaims, before leaving Xavier’s office and slamming the door, hard, behind her.
After Valerie has left, Cannonball exclaims, ‘Okay, I guess that’s a wrap! As you were, Mystique!’ With that, Xavier’s form begins to shift, and he is replaced by that of Raven Darkholme, Mystique, who was impersonating the professor the whole time. The sultry villainess-turned-X-Man informs Guthrie that she found the imposture degrading and did not see the point. Sam smiles and tells Raven that it gives Professor X and the others a head start, adding that it was Cyclops’ idea. ‘Gotta get into that team spirit if you’re gonna be an X-Man!’
‘Am I to be an X-Man? The rumor mill unaccountably misses me out’ Raven remarks, before asking who drew the short straw. ‘Rogue. Way I hear it, she asked for you!’ Sam reveals. ‘Are you serious?’ Raven replies. ‘Well you know what they say. Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer!’ Sam exclaims. ‘And which am I?’ Mystique asks. Sam turns back to her from the door he is about to close, and smiling, he replies ‘You tell me, Raven. It gets a little tough keeping score around here!’ Mystique does not look impressed by that last comment.
Interlude: Deep Space, aboard the Shi’ar scout ship, Arna’rail. The Captain asks his crew member at the monitor why they sounded an alert. The monitor operator replies ‘Standing orders, Captain’, reminding him that anything that cannot be explained must be considered a threat. The Captain asks the monitor if this is her first voyage through the gates, and informs her that that is an order which is quietly forgotten, ‘The void is filled with what we can’t explain!’ The monitor operator remarks to the Captain that something small - as small as a man - flew past them, heading away from the Terran Gate, and now something very big is moving in from the opposite direction - ‘Towards Earth, and towards us!’
The Captain asks how the “second something” reads, to which the young officer replies ‘Like - nothing, Captain!’ the young officer replies, explaining that it is a net of energy so faint that it can be barely sensed at all, but that it is extended across a vast distance. The Captain frowns, before asking his officer if she believes in Sharra and K’ythri. ‘Y-yes, sir. Of course, sir. Why do you ask?’ the young officer replies. ‘No reason. But that belief may give you some slight comfort. As an atheist, I face death with wholly negative emotions’. With that, the strange large mass, what seems to be some pink form of energy, engulfs the Shi’ar vessel, ripping it apart.
Meanwhile, in Selkirk, Western Canada. ‘The cards are on the table, Jeanne-Marie. It’s all up to you now’ a voice remarks. A gun sits at a desk in a messy room. The bed is unmade, clothes and papers are strewn across the floor. Empty liquor bottles lie by the rubbish bin, and bottles of pills sit on the desk. ‘So - there’s a mission? Is that? Another mission? Something for me to do?’ Jeanne-Marie Beaubier, a.k.a. the super heroine known as Aurora, formerly of Canada’s premiere super heroes, Alpha Flight.
‘Something for all of us to do. You - me - Aurora. We have to have full agreement on this!’ Aurora says, continuing to have a conversation with one of her personalities. Taking the gun, Aurora puts it to her head. ‘Everyone has to play their part. Otherwise it’s just going to get worse. And worse. Until - ‘ Jeanne-Marie is cut off mid sentence, as something smashes into her room. Startled, Aurora fires the gun, but her hand jerks upwards so it does not hit her head. ‘This is not your time to die, Jeanne-Marie. Far, far from it!’ exclaims her twin brother, Northstar, dressed in his original costume as he stands beside her and declares ‘This is the day of your rebirth!’
Elsewhere - at the Camara Roja Vault, which has the current location of 620 West, 1200 North. Fuego, Sangre and the blonde girl stand together, and Sangre tells his comrades that they have done well today, but that S.H.I.E.L.D. is far from the strongest opposition they will face, though of course they are no push over. ‘You rose to the occasion magnificently’. The blonde girl with fabulous hair asks if that is why Perro and Serafina get to go and play with the X-Men - ‘While we come home early and say our prayers?’ Addressing her as Aguja, Sangre asks the young woman if she thinks this is a game. ‘Yes. A zero-sum game. One spin, one winner!’ Aguja replies. Sangre remarks that if it is, the prize is species-survival - ‘So we must make very sure that the humans and the mutants lose!’
Back in Westchester, ‘Welcome back, Miss Shapandar - how many fingers am I holding up?’ asks the Beast as Karima sits up in her bed. ‘Three, which is your full compliment, Dr. McCoy’ Karima replies, before remarking that a more pertinent question would be ‘Where are my clothes?’ As Karima wraps a blanket around her, Hank informs her that she didn’t have any when she came in, and asks if it was a wild night. ‘Mus have been. My internal clock is off by thirteen weeks!’ Karima replies, before remarking that someone did a real number on her, and asks the Beast if he has any ideas about who.
The Beast turns to Rogue, who informs Karima that she was being held at the Fordyce Clinic and that she had been partially dismantled. Rogue adds that the name “Pan” was mentioned, and asks Karima if it means anything to her. Karima replies that she doesn’t think so, but that she does remember the Fordyce Clinic, as she heard a call for help, it was telepathic, weak enough to be called subliminal, so she followed it. The Beast and Rogue turn to the bed next to Karima, where a young woman is lying hooked up to various life-support tubes, and the Beast suggests that it could have come from Karima’s fellow inmate, Regan Wyngarde, adding that Regan was a very powerful tele-sender, and even comatose that would still be true.
Rogue asks Hank if he thinks any of this is tied to what went down in New Mexico, to which the Beast replies that, given the time frame, it is unlikely, then asks Karima if she was in Nogales recently. The Super-Sentinel replies that she cannot say for certain, but she doesn’t think so, adding that for the last three months she has been - suddenly, she turns quickly, and her mechanical hands are ready with a charge as she confronts Wolverine a.k.a. Logan who has walked up beside her. ‘A little hair-trigger there, aren’t you, darling? Remind me never to come up on your blind side again!’ Logan jokes.
Karima sits back down in bed and apologizes to Logan, telling him that it was just instinct. ‘Instinct I can get behind. Programming - not so much’. Rogue asks Logan if he is here to talk to her, to which Logan replies that he is. ‘Fine. I was expecting you sooner, to be honest’ Rogue remarks. Logan tells Rogue that she should have come to him when she decided to keep Creed here, and again when she started to question him. ‘You scared I’d want to start cutting pieces out of him?’
‘Don’t you?’ Rogue asks. Logan replies that it doesn’t matter a damn if she thinks she can handle it, before telling her that when it turns out that she is wrong, ‘You know how close you are to the ragged edge?’ There is a pause, before Logan pops one claw right in front of Rogue’s face. ‘That close? Lordy!’ Rogue exclaims.
Outside, Perro looks over at the Sentinels and remarks to Serafina that he has always wanted to fight one. Serafina tells her companion that it is a fight which is not for today, as it is safer to work through their proxies - ‘Who’ve never seen our faces or heard our names’. ‘Safer, but less satisfying’ Perro replies. As Serafina adjusts the helmet on Northstar, Perro remarks that it is also less certain that they don’t have their resources. Serafina informs him that she has altered their DNA in some interesting ways, and repaired some of the grosser breaches in Aurora’s mind.
The French-Canadian twins stand motionless as Serafina exclaims that she is going to steal them a little extra power - just to shift the odds a little. With that, Serafina seems to warp space itself, and the sun becomes completely covered with darkness. Serafina turns to the former Alphans, and after removing their helmets, she declares that the mission begins. ‘Go. Do what must be done’. With that, the twins speed off.
‘The Hell? You think it’s an eclipse?’ asks someone on the grounds of the Xavier Institute. ‘This is no eclipse!’ someone else replies. Inside, Cannonball and Iceman are watching television, and Sam “Cannonball “Guthrie asks what happened to the TV - power outage? Bobby “Iceman” Drake opens the curtains and looking outside points out that they have four power generators, before suggesting that they go check on the X-babies, when suddenly, Northstar and Aurora come smashing into the room. Iceman is shocked at seeing the man who once had a crush on him, and exclaims ‘Northstar! What the Hell are you doing here? You’re supposed to be - I mean, I was there when you…’.
Bobby’s words trail off, but an unemotive Jean-Paul replies ‘Death is a state of mind, Drake. A test of will. You come out of it like a slingshot stone, with a new trajectory, a new momentum. Let me show you!’ With that, Northstar and Aurora stand firmly as the room around them goes up in flames - and Iceman explodes!